On a cold stormy night we caught up with Lisa Billings, our meticulous seamstress . In her cozy cottage we drank some wine, raided her wardrobe, and had a chat on craftsmanship and making the time to sew.
LORE COLLECTION: How did you get started?
LISA BILLINGS: I actually started out in banking, working a corporate job. 13 years ago I had a beautiful daughter and decided to stay home with her for a few years. I’ve always been creative and in the boredom of being a stay-at-home-mom, I got some time to focus and I started making stuff. My initial work was pretty beginner but I honed in on my sewing skills and I started selling my bags on eBay. It went well, I made a lot of sales and people really liked what I did. I didn’t have any interest in copying other people's styles, I did what was authentic to me. People responded so I just kept going from there.
LC: Where are you from and how did you get here?
LB: Well I traveled all the way from East Providence, [she says with a glint of sarcasm] to Attelborough, to Pawtucket, then finally made the move into the big city! I live on the East side in the Summit neighborhood, and it’s a perfect fit for me. There is a good community atmosphere and I work just up the street at Kreatelier, so I am happily able to walk to work.
LC: What is your creative process?
LB: I take what inspires me from a lot of different sources. This can be anything from Pinterest, to a pattern that I see in a shop window, or just browsing fabric. I keep track of those types of things; patterns, moods, and colors. I try not to follow the trends too much because they’re transitory. Whereas, if you really develop your own style I think its more lasting and you can identify yourself better that way. So I keep track of those types of inspirations and what I do, is try to make beautiful, utilitarian objects. I love art for art’s sake, but I also like to make things that are useful. I love making bags and pouches, and while that’s what I started off with and still do now, I’ve branched off into pillows, blankets, and quilts. Lots of times, when I start off making something I don’t know where I’m going with it, so the creative process is the most fun out of everything I do. I love physically sewing but the space that I’m in when I’m creating is my favorite. You get completely immersed in it and get lost in the whole process. Every step of the way is super exciting for me. Sometimes the finished product isn’t exactly what I intended to begin with, but its about working out the process. To make something new for the first time is my favorite part of doing what I do. The biggest challenge is to recreate. If people respond to it, they like it, they buy it. For me to keep remaking is hard, it requires discipline.
LC: So how do you handle that discipline?
LB: Not very well, its always a challenge for me. I plan to work on that in the future; narrowing down and streamlining my product line, designing, and outsourcing the physical sewing. So it requires me to find outlets that do wholesale accounts and I can focus on designing. Anyone can do the physical sewing, so that’s where I’m planning on going next.
LC: When you are describing what you do, what do you consider yourself in your artistic practice?
LB: I would consider myself an artisan, a crafts person. I know there is this debate between art and craft. Because I do take existing materials and I transform them, I don’t create anything from scratch. However, I am starting to with the hand painted work (which will be exclusive for Lore) and I’m enjoying that. Its different for me because I’m not a painter but I’m actually interested in taking a screen printing class. I would love to make my own textiles. That would be the ultimate for me, that would be the next step.
I love textiles, I love commercially made textiles, I’m surrounded by it all day, and there are some beautifully made things out there, but anyone can cut squares, sew in a zipper and make it into a pouch. If you have beautiful textiles, you’re going to have a beautiful product. It is about the combination, I have that eye and I’m not uptight about mixing styles and colors. I’m actually pretty fearless when it comes to that. I also have meticulous sewing skills. It comes naturally to me, I love being meticulous, almost OCD when it comes to that sort of thing. I think its super important, you can have all the creativity in the world but craftsmanship makes a difference.
I kind of have craft ADD, that’s a problem I have. Everything I see I want to recreate. I want to make lamps, I want to crochet, I want to print fabric. It’s very hard to get anything accomplished when you're stretched in that many directions.
LC: How do you balance?
LB: It’s very hard and I can’t do everything but I’m trying to get more balanced. Between spending time with my daughter, boyfriend and working a full time job, its hard to find the time to get into the studio. I’m trying to be disciplined; I have no social life pretty much, so that helps!
LC: What are you inspired by? What drives you?
LB: I love to sew, that’s always present, I love to construct things, its in my blood. I have to do it! I’m online a lot, I’m on Instagram, and I have blogs that I like to follow. Just living in Providence, there is so much creativity and art. Its all these things bombarding my brain and constantly stimulating me. It also can be a double edged sword because sometimes I get overwhelmed, there is so much out there I want to get done and I get paralyzed. Its so weird because I love feminine, fru-fru; liberty of London, and flowers, but then at the same time I’m drawn to artists like Rex Ray. I love his bold, jagged, and colorful patterns.
LC: So how do you overcome that paralysis you mentioned?
LB: I have to focus. Sometimes I take literal breaks from looking at anything, and taking in any more stimuli. I’m driven by whatever is necessary at the moment, I work and sell at Kreatelier and for practical reasons, I try and make things that will sell for the holidays. Gift sets, pouches, little pretty things. I’ll do little floral pins and stuff that people want to give as gifts. I have to do utilitarian pieces right now, I don’t have the luxury to work on concept pieces that are purely for artistic sake. I'm finding the balance between the two. The hand painted pieces for Lore are pushing me to be able to work on these things. Sometimes I get physically tired but also creatively tapped out. But at the same time, making this commitment to you guys is good for me, because it provides discipline. Yesterday I was tired but I went into the studio and I decided to not over think and just do something. I ended up being really satisfied with what I came up with.
We look forward to showcasing Lisa Billing's designs in the Lore Collection!
Margaret Hinge & Jayna Aronovitch